Pause the Netflix, it’s time to go outside. Here are the 50 best outdoor activities within two hours of Charlotte.
Note: Always check individual websites for the most up-to-date offerings, schedules and pricing. Distances are mapped from Uptown. You get it.
(1) Hike waterfall loop at DuPont State Recreation Forest
Stats: 10,400 acres of forest. 86 miles of trail. 4 waterfalls. 2 hours from Charlotte.
The waterfall hike: The 3-mile waterfall hike will take you to Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls. It’s a laid back hike that will still give you a lot of bang for your buck.
Fun fact: Scenes from The Hunger Games were filmed at the waterfalls in DuPont.
(2) Climb an outdoor rock wall with nothing but a pool to catch you at U.S. National Whitewater Center
Details: The USNWC’s deep water solo is a series of climbing walls (ranging 25 to 40 feet tall) that hang over a 20-foot deep pool. Climbers tackle the wall without a harness and nothing but water below.
Price: $59 adult day pass gets you access to all available land and water activities.
(3) Visit a lake surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains
Pro tip: While you’re in Lake Lure, visit the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge. The old bridge between Lake Lure and Chimney Rock was closed to car traffic and transformed into a planted garden over the Broad River. It’s worth checking out.
(4) Kayak Lake Haigler at Anne Springs Close Greenway
Details: Rentals are available on weekends starting on May 25th through September from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No reservations are required. Kayaks are rented on a first come, first serve basis. You can also rent stand-up paddle boards.
Price: $10/person for non-members, $5 for members
Address: 2573 Lake Haigler Drive, Fort Mill
(5) Float down the Catawba River in a tube
The experience: Reserve a tube at Rockin’ River Adventures and float 3 miles from the Lake Wylie Dam to River Walk on a 2- to 3-hour excursion that includes shuttle service, a tube with a headrest, two cup holders and a life jacket.
Price: $20/tube, $5 for a floating cooler
Address: New Gray Rock Rd, Fort Mill, SC
(6) Enjoy a dinner cruise on a luxury yacht or Mississippi river boat
- Lady of the Lake is Queens Landing’s 93-foot yacht. It has two fully-enclosed floors with bars on each level and a balcony that offers lake views. It’s a fancier dining experience and you can even add VIP packages with champagne.
- Catawba Queen is an old school Mississippi river boat. They offer a more casual buffet-style dinner and there’s a bar.
Details: Dinner cruises sail Friday – Sunday. Check the schedule for exact dates and times.
Price: $64.99 – $74.99 adults, $58.99 – $68.99 seniors, $31.99 – $33.99 youths 5-12, $16.99 – $17.99 children 2-12
Address: 1459 River Hwy, Mooresville
(7) Take a tandem paragliding flight over the Blue Ridge Mountains
The experience: Sky Retreat offers tandem paragliding flights over the Blue Ridge Mountains. You’ll enjoy the ride with a qualified tandem pilot so all you’ll need to do is take in the stunning view.
Details: Flights are offered weekdays and weekends, weather permitting. $150 for a tandem flight.
Address: 438 Cascade Drive, Purlear
(8) Go on a cycleboat party cruise on Lake Norman
What to expect: A 2-hour cruise on an open air, pedal-powered party boat. Each boat can hold up to 15 people. You can BYO beer, wine and snacks. Private rentals are also available.
Price: $37/person; $525 full boat rental Book here
Address: 17505 W. Catawba Avenue, Cornelius
(9) Fly through the trees on the country’s steepest and fastest zip line tour
The experience: The Gorge Zip Line in Saluda features 11 zip lines spanning 1.25 miles through the tree canopy. You’ll descend 1,100 vertical feet on a breathtaking excursion over 18,000 acres of protected Green River game lands.
Price: $97/person Reserve here
Address: 166 Honey Bee Drive, Saluda
(10) Explore Linville Caverns
About the caverns: Linville Caverns, North Carolina’s only show cavern, allows visitors to go on guided tours into the base of the mountain where bats, salamanders and other critters can be seen. Plus, you can check out cool stalactites.
Details: It’s located at 19929 US 221 North in Marion. Admission is $9 adults, $8 seniors, $7 kids 5-12. The caverns are open daily.
(11) Take a canopy tour at the U.S. National Whitewater Center
What the expect: A 3-4 hour guided trip where participants will travel through the trees to 14 platforms via seven ziplines, cargo net climbs, rappel stations, sky bridges, and more. The Canopy Tour is available by reservation only.
Price: $89/per person. Available by reservation only.
Pro tip: If you’d rather do a shorter tour, go on the Zip Tour. It’s the same level of difficulty but it’s 1.5 hours and $49/per person.
Yoga instead: They host free yoga classes 7 days a week May through September. You can choose from Slow Flow, Open Level Flow and Fun Flow. To see the different times and class offerings, check the schedule.
(12) Go for a sunset horseback ride and have dinner like a cowboy
Where: Country Time Equestrian Events, 310 Joe Lee Helms Rd, Indian Trail
What to expect: Go on a 50-minute guided sunset trail ride through surrounding farmland and then enjoy a cowboy dinner around a bonfire. It’s $80/per person and must be a group of 4 or more.
Dinner menu: Includes grilled chicken, pork chops, mashed potatoes and baked apples.
(13) Hang out on the beach on Lake Norman
Where to go
- Lake Norman State Park features a 125-yard sand beach equipped with a concession stand, bathhouse, restrooms and lockers. $4-$5/per person. Main park is free to access.
- Ramsey Creek Beach is a 43-acre lakeside park with a half-acre sandy beach It’s open late May through Labor Day with lifeguard service 10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. $5-$10/per car.
Pro tip: If you’re heading to Ramsey Creek Beach, there’s a free beach shuttle available weekends and holidays at 17126 Northcross Drive with service every 15 minutes
(14) Visit Butterfly Bungalow at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
Details: The 380-acre botanical garden features a special butterfly habitat home to an abundant population of native North Carolina butterflies. It’s open May 25 – September 2.
Price: $3 + garden admission
Address: 6500 S. New Hope Road, Belmont
(15) Go for a ride at Rock Hill’s BMX Supercross Track
Where: 1307 Riverwalk Parkway, Rock Hill, SC
- Beginners can take the New Rider Orientation (Free)
- There’s a Novice clinic for the next step up ($10)
- For those with a little more experience, take the Intermediate clinic ($10)
- Open practice (balance bikes only) is every Thursday from 4 – 6 p.m. ($5)
Rentals: Rent a BMX bike and helmet for $10 or a balance bike and helmet for $5.
See a race: The USA BMX Carolina Nationals and USA Cycling Elite National Championships are happening March 29-31. Free admission.
(16) Shoot sporting clays at The Fork
Location: The Fork Farm and Stables, 3200 Fork Road, Norwood
The courses: Set on 1,600 acres at the Pee Dee and Rocky Rivers, The Fork has two 14 station wooded and field courses, one 7-station small gauge course, a covered five-stand, and a four-person, eight-trap, 65-foot tower/flurry.
Cost: Gun rentals are $35 for the day and targets start at $12.
(17) Walk the Raptor Trail at Carolina Raptor Center
What to expect: A self-guided trail featuring over 30 species of birds of prey, including hawks, owls and vultures.
Price: $12 adults, $10 seniors, $8 students 4+
Address: 6000 Sample Road, Huntersville
See a show: Starting May 26, the Flights of the Forest summer show returns so you can see some of the birds up close and in action. Free with admission.
(18) Go whitewater rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center
The experience: Raft down the world’s largest man-made whitewater river, featuring class II-IV rapids. You can opt for the Family Rafting for a little more of a tame experience or the Adventure Rafting for more of a thrilling ride. Upgrade to the Rodeo Rafting if you really want to kick things up a notch (for ages 16 and up only).
Price: $59 adult day pass gets you access to all available land and water activities. Upgrade to the $199 annual pass for access all land and water activities for 365 days.
Pro tip: After your wild ride, grab a beer at the Pump House Biergarten and watch the other rafters head down the channel.
(19) Spend the night in a treehouse at Treehouse Vineyards
Overnight treehouse rentals:
- ‘Horsefeathers Hideaway’ treehouse holds up to 8 people. Starting from $175/night
- ‘Papa’s Dream’ treehouse is available for overnight stays only. Starting from $125/night
Taste + tour: It’s only $8 per person for a wine tasting and tour. The tasting comes with a preselected flight and happen at the top of the hour from 12 p.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. on Sunday. No reservation needed.
(20) Soar through the canopy along the Catawba River on a 3.5-hour zip line tour
Details: Canaan Zip Line features a 70-foot tower and 9 zip lines, including one that’s 900 feet long. The full tour is 3.5 hours or you can opt for the “bootleg tour” for 2 hours.
Price: $89 for the full tour; $65 for the bootleg tour
Address: 3111 Sand Island Rd, Rock Hill, SC
(21) Cool off in an urban sprayground
Details: If your idea of “outdoorsy” is a manicured city park, look no further than our guide to 8 free family-friendly public spraygrounds in and around Charlotte.
Agenda guide: A guide to free public spraygrounds in Charlotte
(22) Rent your own camping island on Lake Wylie
Details: Copperhead Island, a 14-acre island near the banks of McDowell Nature Preserve, offers all-inclusive rentals starting at $200/night. It features 6 primitive camping sites, 2 observation decks, walking trails, fishing piers and more.
Price: starting at $200/night for the full island
Address: 15200 Soldier Rd, Charlotte
(23) Explore Charlotte’s urban greenway trail system
Details: Mecklenburg County’s features 37+ miles of developed greenways for running, walking and cycling. You find them running from Huntersville all the way down to South Carolina.
Agenda guide: The complete guide to Charlotte’s greenways
(24) Spend the day walking, eating and drinking along the Rail Trail
Where to eat: Price’s Chicken Coop is a go-to stop for no-frills fried chicken. Head to Hawker’s Asian Street Fare for small plates. If you’re craving tacos, grab a spot at Sabor Latin Street Grill. Rosemont is ideal if you’re looking to eat and drink (hello alcoholic Capri Suns). Jeni’s Ice Cream is close by for when you need dessert.
Bonus stop: Around the corner from Jeni’s Ice Cream, snap a pic in front of Evelyn Henson’s Confetti Hearts Wall.
(25) Race around the go-kart track at GoPro Motorplex
The experience: Race go-karts up to 55 mph on a 0.7 mile, 11 turn track modeled after the historic Kartdromo Parma circuit in Italy. Each race lasts 10 minutes. No reservations necessary. Just show up and race.
Price: $25/one race, per racer; $45/two races, per racer; $65/three races, per races
(26) Go pick your own strawberries at Hunter Farm
Details: Starting in April, you can go pick your own strawberries. Containers are provided and strawberries are sold by the pound. Availability can vary so call or check their Facebook page before you go.
Address: 13624 Providence Rd, Weddington
(27) Take a day trip to the zoo
- North Carolina Zoo: With 500 developed acres, it is the world’s largest natural habitat zoo. Go see polar bears, elephants, zebras and more. Open daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. $15 adult admission.
- Riverbanks Zoo: Situated on 170 acres close to downtown Columbia, Riverbanks is home to over 2,000 animals. Feed giraffes, watch a live show with seals and zip line over the zoo. Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. $19.95 adult admission.
(28) Sip wine and hang out with llamas at Divine Llama Vineyards
What to expect: Drink local wine and wander around the property, which is home to over 70 llamas. Open Friday & Saturday 12 p.m. – 6 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Address: 4126 Divine Llama Lane, East Bend
(29) Shoot your friends with paint at Paintball Park Charlotte
- The woods: This field features a large fort, small structures, natural bunkers and cover from natural vegetation.
- The forts: The large fortresses are a player favorite. Large structures offer a variety of angles and are built to hold multiple players.
- Tournament fields: Level, grass-covered fields attract multiple tournaments throughout the year, including the national NXL 2man tournament series and the regional CFOA series.
Prices: $29/per person for 3 hours + equipment rental or $44/per person for 6 hours + equipment rental and 500 paintballs.
(30) Swim in a rock quarry at Carrigan Farms
About the quarry: It’s a natural, spring fed, body of water that was discovered back in the last 1960s when mining for granite stone. Now you can swim in it.
Address: 1213 Oak Ridge Farm Hwy, Mooresville
Swimming details: It’s $15/per person to swim at The Quarry (cash only). The next Open Swim will be on Memorial Day, May 27. You must pass a swim test to participate without a life jacket.
(31) Learn to garden at Renfrow Farms
Details: The family farm and century-old hardware story offers classes on everything from organic gardening to composting.
Price: $20/person; $150 for a 10-class pack
Address: 409 W. Charles Street, Matthews
(32) Tee it up at Charlotte’s best golf courses
Best public golf courses: Verdict Ridge Golf & Country Club, Carolina Lakes Golf Club, The Golf Club at Ballantyne, Mooresville Golf Club and Eagle Chase Golf Club (full public golf course rankings).
Best country clubs: Our city’s country clubs have an indisputable upper tier, based on price, prestige and exclusivity – Charlotte Country Club, Myers Park Country Club, Quail Hollow and Carmel Country Club.
(33) Go on a walking tour of Charlotte’s street art
Details: From NoDa to South End, there are a ton of cool street murals all over the city. In fact, there are over 60. Go out and explore them all.
Must see murals:
- Queen Charlotte bomb at The Local by Matt Hooker and Matt Moore
- Former Stella mural at Davidson and 35th by Nick Napoletano and Osiris Rain
- Confetti Hearts Wall by Evelyn Henson
(34) Visit Wing Haven Garden and Bird Sanctuary
Details: Nestled in the heart of the Myers Park, Wing Haven is rich in both wildlife and history. Wander through the beautiful gardens and see how many birds you can spot. Over 150 bird species have been seen here. Open to the public for self-guided tours Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. $10 admission for non-members.
History: The gardens were created back in 1927 by Elizabeth and Edwin O. “Eddie” Clarkson. Elizabeth Clarkson helped found the Mecklenburg Audubon Society and kept journals of all the birds she saw on the property.
Address: 260 Ridgewood Ave., Charlotte
(35) Jump out of a plane with Skydive Carolina
What to expect: Experience a tandem freefall from the sky as you accelerate to over 120 miles per hour for up to 60 seconds. When the parachute opens, enjoy the view for another 5 minutes as you float to the ground.
First time jumpers: Never gone skydiving before? You’ll receive 30 minutes of classroom instruction before you board the plane with your tandem skydiving pro. They’ve got you covered.
Price: $209/per person for tandem skydiving on the weekends. Book here.
(36) Pedal around Charlotte with your friends on the Trolley Pub
Details: It’s a BYOB, pedal-powered bar that holds up to 14 people at a time. While it’s mainly powered by pedaling, it does have an electric assist motor for hills. Thank god.
Choose your stops or go with one of these routes.
- Uptown: Stops at Epicenter, Connolly’s on Fifth, Flight Beer Garden
- NoDa: Stops at Heist Brewery, Birdsong Brewing Company, and The Blind Pig
- South End: Stops at The Unknown Brewing, All-American Pub, and Tyber Creek Pub
Price: $375 Sunday – Thursday, $399 Friday and Saturday
(37) Go for a hot air balloon ride
- Eagles Wings Hot Air Balloons: 45 min – 1 hour ride. $200/per individual.
- Airtime Balloon Company: 1 hour ride. $250/per person with groups of 2-4.
- Carolina Balloonfest: It’s happening October 18-20 in Statesville. $250 balloon rides + admission.
Agenda guide: Here’s where to ride a hot air balloon near Charlotte
(38) Take a moonlight tour on a glowing stand-up paddle board
Details: Aloha Paddle Sports offers Lake Norman nighttime excursions on LED-lit boards. Even the paddles glow. The 1.5 hour tour starts at dusk and you’ll need some previous experience stand-up paddle boarding.
Price: $35 with your own board; $50 with equipment rental
Location: 17505 W. Catawba Ave. Cornelius
(39) Get your adrenaline pumping on a mountain bike trail ride
Trails listed by difficulty
- Moderate: 7 Oaks Preserve Trail, 6500 South New Hope Road, Belmont
- Intermediate: Itusi Trail, 759 State Park Road, Troutman
- Hard: Back Yard Trail, 5539 Farmbrook Drive
Pro tip: Check out the Tarheel Trailblazers website ahead of time for trail conditions. Plus, check out review and see how you can get involved.
(40) Climb the summit of Crowder’s Mountain
Trails: Take Crowder’s Trail for a more moderate climb. Go with Rocktop Trail for a more strenuous hike and views along the way. If you want a shorter climb to the summit, hit up Backside Trail. It’s steep but it’ll get you to the top quicker.
Keep in mind: Trails are accessible from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. during March and April and from 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. from May to September. The trails are always less crowded early.
(41) Hike up a giant granite dome at Stone Mountain
Details: The park offers over 18 miles of trails, including the strenuous 4.5-mile Stone Mountain Loop Trail will take you to the summit of the massive granite dome. If you’re into rock climbing, you can actually climb the 600 ft. face of the mountain.
Address: 3042 Frank Parkway, Roaring Gap
(42) Take in the view at Chimney Rock State Park
About the rock: The iconic North Carolina landmark offers 75-mile panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge.
While you’re there: Check out Hickory Nut Falls – The second-highest waterfall of its kind east of the Mississippi. It drops 404 feet from peak to base. It’s accessible on an easy 1.5-mile roundtrip hike at Chimney Rock State Park.
Price: $13 adults, $6 children; ticket info
(43) Walk across a mile-high swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain
Details: Sitting at an elevation of 5,946 feet, Grandfather Mountain is the highest peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The state park features 12 miles of free hiking trails. Grandfather Mountain also features wildlife habitats, a nature museum and a fudge shop.
The swinging bridge: Plus, you can access the famous mile-high swinging bridge. The 228 foot suspension bridge hangs over an 80 foot chasm and it’s 1 mile above sea level, hence the name.
Address: 9872 NC-105, Banner Elk
(44) Take a dip in one of Charlotte’s swimming pools
YMCA pools: They’ve got over 15 pools and waterparks across our city.
Neighborhood pools: Here are the details on 8 neighborhood swim clubs you can join, including pricing, amenities and waitlist times.
Apartment pools: Get ready to party because Charlotte’s apartment pool scene is huuuge. Here’s the 10 best apartment pools.
(45) Kayak the Catawba River during Rocky Shoals spider lily season
About the lilies: Less than an hour south of Charlotte, Landsford Canal State Park is home to the world’s largest population of Rocky Shoals spider lilies. They bloom May through mid-June.
How to experience them: The spider lilies can be viewed by kayak on the water or along a 1.5-mile hike on land. Thrifty Adventures offers spider lily kayaking trips. $48/per person. Their site says the tours typically sell out in advance so plan ahead.
(45) Explore Latta Plantation Nature Preserve
Details: The 1,460-acre park features 16 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails along the banks of Mountain Island Lake.
What to see:
- Stop by historic Latta Plantation to tour a a restored 19th century federal-style home and learn about the living history farm of James Latta
- Head to The Nature Center is a great place to check out live, native animals
- Visit the Backyard Habitat Garden, which includes bird feeding stations, butterfly gardens, garden pond, and demonstration compost area
Address: 6211 Sample Road, Huntersville
(47) Go fishing at McDowell Nature Preserve
Details: This 1,132-acre park is situated right on the banks of Lake Wylie making it the perfect place to go fishing. There are multiple public fishing docks and you must have a fishing license.
Address: 15222 York Road, Charlotte
(48) Hit the trails at Anne Springs Close Greenway
Details: You’ll find 40+ miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Plus, you can go kayaking in Lake Haigler.
Address: 104 Adventure Road, Fort Mill, SC
(49) Be one with nature in Uwharrie National Forest
Details: The closest national forest to Charlotte features 1,600+ miles of trails on 51,000+ acres of land. Not sure where to start? The Badin Lake Trail is a manageable loop around the lake with 2.5- and 5.6-mile options.
Address: Wood Run Trailhead, NC-27, Mt. Gilead
(50) Play putt-putt, drive go-karts and feel like a kid again at Frankie’s
Things to do: The outdoor portion of the 20-acre park features three 18-hole miniature golf courses, three custom designed go-kart tracks, a spinning tea-cup ride, swing ride, halfpipe ride and some crazy ride named “Discover” where you hang upside down while spinning 60 feet in the air.
How does it works: You load up a “Fun Card” with money and then use the card as currency throughout the facility.
Where: Frankie’s is a 20-acre amusement park in Huntersville
Agenda guide: Take a tour of Frankie’s, now open near Charlotte